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Avoiding confirmation bias

Confirmation bias happens when you only look for the facts that support your idea.┬áIt’s something I come across far too often. It happens because it’s so very human to only see what we want to see. It’s one of the main culprits of bad decision making.

We look for signs that match our initial idea because we like and want to be right. This is one of the reasons why the spread of fake news is so hard to contain. It’s also why it’s so difficult to persuade someone they might be wrong. An effect that’s even stronger when you were the one that went looking for the information in the first place.

The Belgian justice system certainly isn’t perfect. It does have one thing going for it: Investigators are obligated to actively look for facts to incriminate and/or absolve someone. Countries that allow the justice system to only look for incriminating evidence have a higher wrongful conviction rate.

That means a simple trick helps avoid confirmation bias:

“What would I see if I am wrong?”

Don’t just look for evidence that you’re right, take a few moments to look for evidence that you’re wrong. It’s surprising to see how quickly you find it. Finding it doesn’t mean you’re wrong, it just means there’s more to it than you thought.

If you do find a few things that go against your thinking, talk to someone about what you’re seeing. It allows you to make everything click in your head, and you get input from others as an added bonus.

In my experience taking those few minutes is enough to gradually take better decisions. Most people will not actively look for it, so you’re already improving on their confirmation bias.

Want to learn more about making better decisions? Farnam Street is one of my favourite blogs on decision making. They explain over 110 mental models.